Humans are social beings. Studies have shown that babies who don’t get regular love and contact don’t thrive in their development. Now we’re learning that the same is true for adults as well. In fact, new studies show that living by yourself can make you more susceptible to serious disease.
Recently, I found a number of rat studies that concluded that lonely rodents are more likely to get sick than those living in groups. Rats, like people, are very social beings. But do these studies affect people? A group of researchers at Yale University and the University of Chicago say they do. They say these rodent studies could be an important step in understanding how isolation affects illness in us as well.
These researchers were looking for an association between isolated rats and disease for years. Here are some of their findings along with implications for your health.
Their initial research found that fearful and anxious rats were more likely to get tumors and die than calmer, more socialized rats. Then another study from the same team suggested that stress might turn off genes that suppress cancer.
Now their current studies are taking another step in understanding this phenomenon. Living alone, these researchers found, caused younger rats to produce higher levels of stress hormones. These stressed rats were more fearful and anxious — and more likely to have malignancies later in life.
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In fact, isolated rats had 135% more tumors — and an 8,000% increase in the size of their tumors — than the rats living in groups. This is huge!
We can’t always live with other people for numerous reasons. But we don’t have to be isolated. We can meet with friends regularly for a meal, a cup of tea, or a walk. We can interact with the people we see regularly at the gym or grocery store. We can volunteer with a local organization. And, at the very least, we can keep in touch with friends and neighbors regularly by phone. There are numerous opportunities to connect to people.
Researchers asked a group of positive, lively seniors for the secret to their happiness. The person whose answer impressed me the most was a man in his 90s. His wife had died and he had lived a difficult life. He said, “Happiness is a choice.”
So, I maintain, is socializing and sharing. Not only will it feed you emotionally, it can keep you healthier, as well.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
Hermes, Gretchen, et al. “Social Isolation Dysregulates Endocrine and Behavioral Stress While Increasing Malignant Burden of Spontaneous Mammary Tumors,” "http://www.pnas.org"\t"_blank"PNAS, 6 Dec 2009.